4 Reasons to Avoid Overspecialization

The conversation on overspecialization in youth sports has been raging for a few years now. There are very educated and experienced people on both sides of the fence debating about what’s best for young athletes. The science and research pretty clearly argues against early specialization. However, how will overspecialization specifically harm your Christian school athletic department?

The goal of this post is to get you to think about how overspecialization can not only harm your athletes, but how it will harm your athletic department at your small school.

Christian schools are tempted to focus on one sport. These schools will compete in the school season and then run the same team in local club circles. Practicing and competing year round.

They hang banners, but are they helping their athletes? Are they maximizing their program and their school?

Encouraging participation in a wide range of sports across the student body creates a healthy and appealing community. Overspecialization can’t do that.

Here are four reasons to avoid overspecialization.


Overuse Injuries

The human body is like any other machine. Use causes wear and tear. Overspecialization in young athletes causes wear and tear to happen early and often.

Dr. Neeru Jayanthi of Loyola University Medical Center presented his findings from his three-year-long study of adolescent athletic injuries to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.

Jayanthi reported that out of 1,206 adolescent athletes monitored from 2010-2013, there were 859 total sports injuries.

The causes of 569 of these injuries were classic cases of overuse.

Of the 569 injuries reported, 139 athletes were sidelined for months at a time due to major overuse injuries including stress fractures, ligament damage, and osteochondral injuries.

Jayanthi’s research also concluded that athletes who spent double the amount of organized sports compared to that of free play were more likely to experience overuse injuries.

He has developed a simple formula to prevent against overuse injuries. Children should not participate in more hours a week of organized sport than their numerical age.

So, basically, don’t specialize early; the adolescent body can’t handle the stress.


De-emphasizes Overall Athleticism

This sounds strange, but its true. Think about it logically and it makes sense.

Education is made up of different subjects. A child versed only in social studies and not at all in math would be considered academically deficient and uneducated. Therefore, a child only versed in the skills of one sport cannot be automatically considered athletic regardless of their proficiency at their one sport.

Maximum athletic development can only be achieved through engaging in a wide variety of athletic disciplines. Brian McCormick states in his book, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development,

“… playing in multiple sports or engaging in multiple activities increases an athlete’s multi-lateral development.”

McCormick later goes on to identify the focus of multi-lateral development as developing young athletes’ strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, and coordination.

Ideally, young athletes are better off spending less time on the diamond and more time playing tag at the park.

The experts at CoachUp.com contend,

“As a general rule, throughout high school, roughly 70% of a young athlete’s training program should be based on general fitness and athletic ability.”


Kills YOUR Athletic Program

A mantra that we always preach and try to live by is,

“the more sports you play, the better you get at all of them.”

This is a very broad brush that we like to paint with, however it is essential to the athletic philosophy at a Christian school. If you’re serious about building an exciting, attractive, and successful athletic department at a small school, then you need to get most of your kids to participate in most of the sports.

Overspecialization is the exact opposite of this philosophy and will kill your program.

More often than not, the overspecialization of athletes is more parent driven than player driven. Therefore, you need to get the vital information to your parents while their kids are young.

Encourage parents to sign their kids up in fun, recreational leagues for the sports that your school offers. Warn them about the potential danger of overspecialization.


Athlete Burnout

Burnout is the ultimate risk of athletes involved in overspecialization.

So often kids that showed early signs of excellence in certain sports find themselves not even finishing their high school athletic careers due to burnout caused by year round participation in the same sport.

This burnout can also come from reaching an athletic plateau in the athlete’s life. Early bloomers are surpassed when they stop growing the same year that their peers start.

At Christian schools, you likely need athletes with any skill. So if you have a kid coming up with a large amount of skill in a particular sport you want to keep them in the fold.

Try to do what you can to discourage burnout.

Their intense participation in their “specialized sport” may continue, but your athletic program can offer other opportunities for them to compete and have fun in a different sport.

In closing, you as a coach or athletic director need to educate your program.

Parents need to realize that the odds of their children receiving full-ride, D1 scholarships are very slim. Often times college coaches are attracted to players that excel in multiple sports.

Long term athleticism and fitness should be the goal of high school athletics.

The athletes will decide as they age what they want to specialize in, and they’ll work towards that goal. There is nothing wrong with this.

However, we need to encourage participation in multiple sports for the good of our program and ultimately our athletes.


What are your thoughts on overspecialization Do you think it hurts or helps your athletic department?


Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of TheAthleticDirectors.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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